Blest be the man (and blest he is) whom e'er (Placed far out of the roads of hope or fear) A little field and little garden feeds; The field gives all that frugal nature needs, The wealthy garden liberally bestows All she can ask, when she luxurious grows. The specious inconveniences, that wait Upon a life of business and of state, He sees (nor does the sight disturb his rest) By fools desired, by wicked men possessed. Thus, thus (and this deserved great Virgil's praise) The old Corycian yeoman passed his days, Thus his wise life Abdolonymus spent: The ambassadors which the great emperor sent To offer him a crown, with wonder found The reverend gardener hoeing of his ground; Unwillingly and slow, and discontent, From his loved cottage to a throne he went. And oft he stopped in his triumphant way, And oft looked back, and oft was heard to say, Not without sighs, "Alas! I there forsake A happier kingdom than I go to take." Thus Aglaus (a man unknown to men, But the gods knew, and therefore loved him then) Thus lived obscurely then without a name, Aglaus, now consigned to eternal fame. For Gyges, the rich king, wicked and great, Presumed at wise Apollo's Delphic seat, Presumed to ask, "O thou, the whole world's eye, Seest thou a man that happier is than I?" The god, who scorned to flatter man, replied, "Aglaus happier is." But Gyges cried, In a proud rage, "Who can that Aglaus be? We have heard as yet of no such king as he." And true it was, through the whole earth around No king of such a name was to be found. "Is some old hero of that name alive, Who his high race does from the gods derive? Is it some mighty general that has done Wonders in fight, and god-like honours won? Is it some man of endless wealth?" said he; "None, none of these: who can this Aglaus be?" After long search, and vain inquiries passed, In an obscure Arcadian vale at last (The Arcadian life has always shady been) Near Sopho's town (which he but once had seen) This Aglaus, who monarchs' envy drew, Whose happiness the gods stood witness to, This mighty Aglaus was labouring found, With his own hands, in his own little ground. So, gracious God (if it may lawful be, Among those foolish gods to mention Thee), So let me act, on such a private stage, The last dull scenes of my declining age; After long toils and voyages in vain, This quiet port let my tossed vessel gain; Of heavenly rest this earnest to me lend, Let my life sleep, and learn to love her end.
THE GARDEN To J. Evelyn, Esquire.
I never had any other desire so strong, and so like to covetousness, as that one which I have had always, that I might be master at last of a small house and large garden, with very moderate conveniences joined to them, and there dedicate the remainder of my life only to the culture of them and the study of nature.
And there (with no design beyond my wall) whole and entire to lie, In no unactive ease, and no unglorious poverty.
Or, as Virgil has said, shorter and better for me, that I might there studiis florere ignobilis otii, though I could wish that he had rather said Nobilis otii when he spoke of his own. But several accidents of my ill fortune have disappointed me hitherto, and do still, of that felicity; for though I have made the first and hardest step to it, by abandoning all ambitions and hopes in this world, and by retiring from the noise of all business and almost company, yet I stick still in the inn of a hired house and garden, among weeds and rubbish, and without that pleasantest work of human industry--the improvement of something which we call (not very properly, but yet we call) our own. I am gone out from Sodom, but I am not arrived at my little Zoar. "Oh, let me escape thither (is it not a little one!), and my soul shall live." I do not look back yet; but I have been forced to stop and make too many halts. You may wonder, sir (for this seems a little too extravagant and Pindarical for prose) what I mean by all this preface. It is to let you know, that though I have missed, like a chemist, my great end, yet I account my afflictions and endeavours well rewarded by something that I have met with by-the-by, which is, that they have produced to me some part in your kindness and esteem; and thereby the honour of having my name so advantageously recommended to posterity by the epistle you are pleased to prefix to the most useful book that has been written in that kind, and which is to last as long as months and years.
Among many other arts and excellencies which you enjoy, I am glad to find this favourite of mine the most predominant, that you choose this for your wife, though you have hundreds of other arts for your concubines; though you know them, and beget sons upon them all (to which you are rich enough to allow great legacies), yet the issue of this seems to be designed by you to the main of the estate; you have taken most pleasure in it, and bestowed most charges upon its education, and I doubt not to see that book which you are pleased to promise to the world, and of which you have given us a large earnest in your calendar, as accomplished as anything can be expected from an extraordinary wit and no ordinary expenses and a long experience. I know nobody that possesses more private happiness than you do in your garden, and yet no man who makes his happiness more public by a free communication of the art and knowledge of it to others. All that I myself am able yet to do is only to recommend to mankind the search of that felicity which you instruct them how to find and to enjoy.
Happy art thou whom God does bless With the full choice of thine own happiness; And happier yet, because thou'rt blessed With prudence how to choose the best. In books and gardens thou hast placed aright, - Things which thou well dost understand, And both dost make with thy laborious hand - Thy noble, innocent delight, And in thy virtuous wife, where thou again dost meet Both pleasures more refined and sweet: The fairest garden in her looks, And in her mind the wisest books. Oh! who would change these soft, yet solid joys, For empty shows and senseless noise, And all which rank ambition breeds, Which seem such beauteous flowers, and are such poisonous weeds!
When God did man to his own likeness make, As much as clay, though of the purest kind By the Great Potter's art refined, Could the Divine impression take, He thought it fit to place him where A kind of heaven, too, did appear, As far as earth could such a likeness bear. That Man no happiness might want, Which earth to her first master could afford, He did a garden for him plant By the quick hand of his omnipotent word, As the chief help and joy of human life, He gave him the first gift; first, even, before a wife.